- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2012

Natalie Novosel isn’t used to hearing her number called in the first quarter. But on Sunday afternoon when the Mystics hosted the New York Liberty at Verizon Center, Novosel found herself in the game early and playing a season-high 15 minutes.

For rookies and role players, it’s perhaps the only bright spot of being on a losing team — at the end of the season, they get a chance to play. With just two games remaining, the Mystics have started thinking about next year, and Novosel is finally getting some serious court time.

“When you come in here you want to make a difference and make an impact,” Novosel said. “It’s tough, especially when your minutes fluctuate a lot. You don’t know what to expect. You try and stay consistent, but it’s tough.”

The Mystics selected Novosel with the eighth overall pick last year. A 5-foot-11 shooting guard out of Notre Dame, Novosel picked up the nickname “Nasty” during her playing days at Lexington Catholic High School in Kentucky.

An aggressive shooter with good passing and ball-handling skills, and a tough defender, Novosel averaged 15.1 points in her final season with the Fighting Irish. But like all rookies, Novosel had an adjustment to make from college to the WNBA, made all the more difficult by being the only rookie on the league’s worst team.

“It’s been a learning experience this whole year, a lesson in perseverance,” Novosel said. “All my teammates tell me, ‘Don’t expect this every season. This is not what the WNBA is about.’ I’ve had great veterans to learn from. Having them to help me keep my spirits up along the way has been the key.”

Jasmine Thomas can relate. Thomas saw extended minutes at point guard as a rookie last year as the season was drawing to a close. Mired in the Eastern Conference basement the past two seasons, the Mystics were 6-28 last year, and they 5-27 this season.

Thomas found herself with a steep learning curve and a short time frame to learn how to run a WNBA team. It was a big adjustment after being a star player at Duke.

“When you’re on a losing team as a rookie, the leash is shorter and the stress level is higher,” Thomas said. “There isn’t the opportunity to make as many mistakes as you would be able to if your team is up 20, up 30 and you’re getting in.”

Thomas rooms with Novosel on the road and has helped her learn how to stay positive and not let the losing affect her game.

“I told her to stay confident, to know what she does well, know what got her to this league and continue to do that,” Thomas said. “She’s obviously disappointed. She has some friends around the league that are doing a little better than we are but she’s still so grateful for the opportunity.”

Mystics coach/general manager Trudi Lacey selected Novosel in the first round for her skills and her attitude.

“She’s a great competitor and an awesome person,” Lacey said. “It’s a lot to learn in one year and she’s shown lots of improvement. She’s worked very hard and she’s beginning to understand what it takes to play and compete at this level. I think she has a bright future in this league.”

As the Mystics walked off the court on Sunday after their 11th consecutive loss, Novosel, clad in a pink uniform, paused for a moment before heading to the locker room. The uniforms were in support of breast cancer awareness, which the WNBA recognizes every season during one home game for each team.

Beast cancer survivors were honored at halftime. After the game there was an auction of team-related merchandise, including the pink jerseys, with the proceeds going to fight the disease. The Mystics raised more than $26,000.

For Novosel, the moment offered her some perspective.

“There have been some trying times this season, but at the same time, I look at these people with breast cancer,” Novosel said, “so I think I can look at the big picture and see things as a learning and growing experience.”

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